The festa (party) was over before it started last week for Portugal's Communists. Pro-Moscow party leader Alvaro Cunhal had called for massive demonstrations to celebrate the election defeat of the centre-right
Democratic Alliance government, but that was before the results were known. In the end it was Prime Minister Francisco Sá Carneiro, a shrewd 46-year-old lawyer, and his supporters who were splashing the champagne. A two-percent swing boosted their parliamentary majority from six seats to 22 and made it clear that Portugal has ended its sixyear affair with Marxism. The voting also underlined the crucial importance of December’s presidential elections. Bitterly feuding with the present incumbent, Ramalho Eanes, over his blocking of government attempts to move toward a free-market economy, Sá Carneiro has labelled the president “the true leader of the opposition,” and Eanes, intent on preserving the principles of the April, 1974, revolution, is standing again.
The reason for Sá Carneiro’s parliamentary success, however, was not hard to find. In ten months in office, the Democratic Alliance has managed to reduce inflation from 25 to 19 per cent, bump up salaries and pensions, cut some taxes and preserve at least an illusion of industrial peace. “Blatant votecatching,” sniffed the left. But even in the Alentejo farmlands, where the government is rolling back attempts to collectivize large estates, the Communists lost ground. The Socialists, not long ago in government themselves, fared little better. For all the ecstatic receptions accorded party chief Mario Soares and the plastering of Lisbon with 250,000 posters, voters took their cue from the fate of the airship hired as a party election stunt. The only time it got off the ground it had to make an emergency landing.
In contrast, two handicaps which had appeared damning in the end failed to blight Sá Carneiro’s triumph. For the first time he openly admitted his intention to split from his wife, by whom he has five children. At his side during the campaign was a comely Danish publisher with whom he has had a longstanding relationship. In firmly Catholic Portugal that could have had serious repercussions, but did not. The prime minister was also fiercely assailed over an old $275,000 bank loan to him and his brother. But he denied any debts and maintained that any funny business was the bank’s fault.
Sá Carneiro nevertheless faces severe problems in December. The Democratic Alliance—a coalition of Social Democrats, Centre Democrats and Monarchists—is giving high priority to amending the constitution to end presidential obstruction. But here the government faces a Catch-22 situation. With only 136 seats against the Socialists’ 73 and the Communists’ 40, Sá
Carneiro lacks the two-thirds majority to carry an amendment. So he is proposing a referendum. But that would almost certainly be rejected as unconstitutional by President Eanes and the Council of the Revolution. For this reason, the Alliance is pushing the conservative Gen. Antonia Soares Carneiro (no relation) as its presidential candidate.
To date, however, he does not seem to have dented the appeal of Eanes. The president gained more than 60 per cent of the vote at his 1976 election and has won wide respect for his calm integrity. Buoyed by his victory, Sá Carneiro sounded optimistic last week. “The Socialists’ defeat in the parliamentary elections also constitutes the first defeat for the candidature of Eanes,” he declared. But, like the Communists this time around, he may be celebrating too
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